081 – Checkmate (The Time Meddler Part 4)

Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Douglas Camfield

The Monk reveals his intentions as the villagers rally to rid themselves of the Viking survivors.

The Doctor voids the warranty.

“I count myself very fortunate indeed to be here, in this time…to prevent this disgusting exhibition!”

There are times when I wish I didn’t have knowledge of Doctor Who.  I would love to experience these stories fresh, no knowledge of Time Lords or regeneration.  How utterly mind-blowing and epic this story must have seemed.  Two years of stories, 80 episodes, with no information of The Doctor’s people, then WHAM!  A TARDIS.  The Monk is of the same people as The Doctor.  We still aren’t given a name at this point, but the introduction of another Time Lord to the mix shows an active race and now that the barrier has been crossed, we can probably guarantee that one day we will get more.  I’m actually rather amazed that it took as long as it did.  Beyond The Monk, we won’t see another Time Lord until Patrick Troughton’s final story.  Ah, to relive the days when The Time Lords were mysterious entities that lurked behind the scenes, almost not present at all.  Sure, the new series has done a little to recapture that feel, but it isn’t the same.  The Time Lords are removed from time in the new show.  Lurking, but not active.  They are exhibits in a temporal museum, not god-like beings moving unseen.

The Monk’s plan is laid bare in this episode, revealing himself to be nothing more than a mischief-maker.  He isn’t necessarily evil, but he does have the arrogance to assume his view of history is the best way.  He wants to manipulate time to his own ends.  In this case, he wants to destroy the Vikings so King Harold will be at full strength when the Normans invade.  The Monk believes Harold would be a good King, and not get involved in the wars in Europe.  He wants to improve history.  The Doctor will not allow this.  He claims the golden rule of time travel is to not change the past.  Let’s deal with the large implication of this rule:  Dennis Spooner is re-writing David Whitaker.

David Whitaker’s view of time was of a force that was moving toward an end.  Any changes that were made would be rejected.  His views are very evident in The Aztecs and the epilogue of The Reign of Terror.  As discussed here before, history course-corrects any changes that are made.  If you drop a boulder into the stream of time, the boulder will be destroyed.  If you drop a pebble, it will be shifted into a complimentary position as to limit damage.  Dennis Spooner has now changed that this is now nothing more than a rule of The Time Lords.  Mucking about in history isn’t a law of nature, it is a golden rule, a suggestion.  There may still be a natural law that has led to this particular rule, but as of The Time Meddler, history CAN be changed.  Sorry, Mr. Moffatt.  Dennis Spooner beat you to it.  Although, to be fair, Spooner still has The Doctor toe the Time Lords’ line.  Steven Moffatt is leading The Doctor to a place of rejection of The Time Lords’ rule.  The Big Bang and A Christmas Carol bear this out, and I’m really hoping that if Moffatt continues taking the show in this direction, he is also planning to show major consequences to mucking about in time.  Really, is what The Monk doing so different from what The Doctor does in A Christmas Carol?  The Monk wants to change historical events to achieve his view of the way things should be.  The Doctor wants to re-write a man’s life to save the lives of people on a crashing ship.  The violation that offends The Doctor is that The Monk is changing history, not taking or saving lives.  By his own moral standards, The Eleventh Doctor has broken the golden rule.

But, back to The Time Meddler and simpler times.  The villagers hunt down the two Vikings, thus restoring original progression of history, and The Doctor prevents The Monk’s further meddling in time by removing the dimensional control from The Monk’s TARDIS.  Without the dimensional control, the trans-dimensional properties of The TARDIS are reset, which is just a fancy way of saying The Monk’s TARDIS is no longer bigger on the inside.  Everything inside has been returned to scale, and The Monk is too big to enter his ship.  He is stranded…for now.

The Time Meddler is a great ending to the season.  The story was intriguing, but only marginally about the history.  The history serviced the time-travel plot, which was a new exploration of the foundation of the show.  It was also an alteration of David Whitaker’s view of time and history.  But in the end, it was fun and provided a bit of mythology building for The Doctor and his people.

And it also introduced the first example of TARDIS envy.



One thought on “081 – Checkmate (The Time Meddler Part 4)

  1. The Monk tries to change history, but it is notable that he does not succeed.

    The clear implication is that changing history is not impossible, but requires a very clear and determined effort such as what the Monk is attempting. Normally it is impossible to change history, hence the failure of an amateur like Barbara in The Aztecs.

    I think this rules out:

    1. Big Finish’s notion that history can be altered accidently, as in Colditz where Ace loses a CD in Nazi Germany resulting in a new timeline.

    2. Moffatt’s idea that timelines are in such a state of flux that there need not be any real continuity in the Whoniverse.

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